Being “right there in the action and not just a spectator” – the slogan of a German sports channel – is a reality at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. As ski jumpers plunge down the jump or bobsledders shoot down the ice channel, viewers can see the action from the athlete’s perspective and experience the event at closer quarters than ever before thanks to tiny cameras in the athletes’ helmets – and to 5G.
South Korean mobile communications provider Korea Telecom and its partners Intel and Samsung have connected the Olympic sites and other hotspots with a 5G mobile communications network to which everyone involved in the Games, from the competitor to the TV channel, can hook up. The new technology can do more than make live streaming of high-resolution video images directly onto the Internet possible. Thanks to 360°cameras, viewers with virtual reality glasses can follow what is going on from the athlete’s perspective – and can do so in real time.
From 1G to 5G: A technology leap every ten years
Pyeongchang marks the new 5G technology’s media launch. Technology leaps frequently occur at regular intervals, and that is certainly the case in mobile communications. In 1990, 2G replaced the first-generation standard and ushered in texting. In 2000, 3G brought the Internet to the mobile phone, and in 2010, 4G enabled smartphone users to access multimedia applications by means of broadband Internet connections. And the global commercial launch of the fifth mobile communications generation is scheduled for 2020. But 5G is much more than just another technology leap.
Enormous Requirements of the Network of the Future
5G will take the performance of mobile communications to a new level. The most exacting requirements will be those of the Internet of Things. The two billion or so smartphones that according to an IDC forecast will be using the mobile Internet in 2020 will be joined, depending on the forecast, by up to 50 billion connected devices, vehicles and machines communicating with each other, with the Cloud and with users.
A communications network capable of handling all current and, above all, future scenarios must be sufficiently powerful. Take transmission speeds, for example. The ITU wants upload data speeds of 10 gigabits per second and download speeds of 20 gigabits per second as peak performance for a single mobile communications mast in ideal conditions. By way of comparison, using 4G LTE Advanced, customers can reach around 300 Mbit/s. In the test lab and in pilot trials in the real network, network operators exceeded 1 gigabit per second for the first time in August 2016. With the 10 to 20 times that bandwidth that 5G is to provide, scenarios such as Virtual and Augmented Reality or uninterrupted video streaming in high resolution or on trains and in cars will be feasible for the first time.
Minimum Latency, Maximum Supply Density
Take the delay time, for example. In a 5G network, according to the ITU, the latency – the time information takes to travel from the sender to the receiver – must not exceed a millisecond for extremely response-critical applications. That makes signal transmissions in close to real time possible, such as for controlling key infrastructures like power supplies or for disaster relief.
The second important criterion is connection density. If mobile communication cells already reach their limits with large gatherings, wireless communication is set to reach a bottleneck with 50 or 100 billion connected things. The plan is for a 5G network to provide guaranteed quality of service (QoS) for a million devices per square kilometer at the same time – 1,000 times the capacity of current radio cells.
Energy-efficient, Reliable and Everywhere
The ITU’s 5G specifications also place exacting energy efficiency demands both on the network and on devices that must support different power saving modes when data transfer is inactive. Reliability – the likelihood that a data packet of a certain size will be transmitted within a specified time – will be regulated, as will coverage and maximum data rate with a uniform QoS at the different speeds at which a user moves: on foot (up to 10 km/h), by car (up to 120 km/h), by rail (up to 500 km/h) or by plane (up to 1,000 km/h).
Along with technical framework conditions 5G requires a new network infrastructure. The 5G network is to deliver maximum flexibility in order to provide for all eventualities. Providers are using different technologies to make their network sufficiently intelligent. A combination of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) ensures that data streams can be channeled and managed centrally in real time on a software – and no longer a hardware – basis. It is no longer the hardware but the software that decides with which wireless technology and on which channel data is to be transmitted. Software, let us remember, is easily updated. Where devices used to have to be replaced, only a software update is now required.
The Right Network for Each Application
A 5G network can, for example, provide both content from the Internet and prioritized services with QoS and data security for special applications. Network slicing is the name of the game. Depending on data rate, speed and capacity requirements, the 5G network infrastructure will provide each user and each application with just the right connection – its customized slice of the network.
To do so, the planned 5G networks integrate different technologies, not only 5G to the latest standard but also landline networks (fiber-optic and copper wire), wireless networks like WLAN, new mobile standards like NarrowBand IoT and, of course, existing standards such as LTE. This means network operators must not necessarily set up new base stations that provide comprehensive coverage; they can also upgrade existing transmission equipment by means of modern technology. One of the potential bandwidths for 5G is beyond 3 GHz, however, and with each gigahertz the range declines rapidly, requiring a corresponding increase in transmission mast numbers. So for nationwide coverage network operators would seem to need to fall back on 4G for an unlimited period and “genuine” 5G may initially need to be restricted to conurbations.
Kickoff in 2020 – and Research in the Meantime
In December 2017 the standardization body 3GPP laid down the first stage of the 5G standard. Non-Standalone 5G New Radio (or NSA 5G NR for short) enables use to be made of the existing LTE infrastructure. Using technologies such as Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) higher data rates and lower latencies can be achieved on the LTE data channel. The 3GPP plans to finalize the Standalone 5G NR standard in mid-2018.
Initial pilot networks are planned for the end of 2018. The first bandwidths are to be available in 2019. Approval of a final standard by both the ITU and the 3GPP and the first commercial applications are scheduled for the end of 2020, until when research will continue and 5G projects will proceed worldwide at full blast.
Race for Technology Leadership
Asia, as expected, is among the leaders, and the Olympic Games are playing a leading role – as in past technical innovations. Following South Korea, Japan will rely fully on 5G as a communications base at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, as will China at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The major U.S. providers are also taking innovation forward, as are their counterparts in Europe, where the EU has launched the 5G for Europe Action Plan to regulate and above all coordinate developments – and to do so better than the rather unsuccessful rollout of LTE across Europe.
Germany aims to play a leading role in 5G, with Berlin at the helm. In the 5G-Testfeld, initiated by the Berlin Senate, the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications amongst others offers network operators and companies an opportunity to try out 5G networks and services. To test 5G in live operation researchers are using Software-Defined Radio (SDR) transceivers. The SDR hardware consists of a transmitter, a receiver, and analog/digital converters. Signal processing is controlled by software so that a wireless module can support different frequencies and switch between LTE, WLAN or 5G without hardware needing to be replaced.
Network supplier Nokia and Deutsche Telekom have set up another test field in the Port of Hamburg. A 5G antenna 150 meters up the Hamburg TV Tower supplies an 8,000 square meter port area with 5G mobile communications. 5G is used to control traffic lights and collect environmental measurement data, while Virtual Reality applications serve to monitor construction sites and locks. The partnering companies are testing whether these different requirements can be met reliably on a single network by means of network slicing technology.
If companies switch to SIP trunks, they should consider a PBX (private branch exchange) and a centralization of all connections as well. It is a decision that will save them more than just voice channels.